Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website and newsletters. He wrote "New Frugal You," a weekly Q&A column about frugal living, for CreditCards.comAsk a question
Dear New Frugal You,
Is there a frugal way to celebrate Valentine's Day? We're still paying for Christmas so there's not a lot of money to spend. Can you help me do something special that doesn't cost a lot? -- Darin
You're right. Valentine's Day can be a challenge when you're trying to live frugally. According to the National Retail Federation's 2013 Valentine's Day spending survey, American consumers expect to spend an average of $131 on their significant others (men: $176; women $89). Total spending for the holiday is projected to reach $18.6 billion.
Add that popular culture wants you to judge your mate's devotion based on how much they spend, and you have an unfrugal accident waiting to happen. Let's see if we can't give you a number of different ideas that will move you beyond the typical card, dozen roses and box of chocolates in a heart-shaped box.
Sometimes it's not what you do, but where you do it. A picnic basket can be romantic. But take it to a moonlight-flooded hideaway for romance times two. And, if you can visit a spot from your dating days, the romance factor is multiplied!
- Produce an evening of memories. If you've been paying attention, you know what your Valentine likes. Assemble a scrapbook with pictures of good times you've shared. Create a music mix or video of times you've shared.
Plan a one-day vacation at home. Has your Valentine ever mentioned visiting some exotic place? Then plan a dinner and evening around that locale. For instance, who wouldn't want to spend a evening on the Hawaiian islands? Try cooking some Hawaiian dishes. You'll find many on the Web. Background music can be found at your library or online. Rent a movie with an appropriate theme.
- Overwhelm your Valentine. Use many small reminders throughout the day to let them know of your love. One way would be to cut out or draw hearts on sticky notes. If you're creative, add a reason why you love her on each one. Leave them in different places for her to find during the day.
On the other hand, there are times when it's best to just keep it simple. A candlelight dinner with romantic music in the background is always appropriate. And low cost.
- Move the whole holiday. Everyone expects their Valentine to do something romantic for them on the 14th. Sweep them off their feet by making the 13th your own personal Valentine's Day.
Pretend that you have money. Dreams and fantasies can be very romantic. Windowshop with your Valentine. Tell her what ring or earrings you'd buy if you had the money. Look at cards and tell her which one you'd pick for her. Embarrassed to do it in person? Then windowshop online.
Go for quality, not quantity. A dozen roses and a box of chocolates can easily run $50 or more. A single rose and a few premium hand-dipped chocolates can carry the same message at a fraction of the cost.
Make it a game. Create a trail of love notes. In each one express something you love about your Valentine and a clue where the next note can be found. You can use as many as you want. Where he or she finds the last note is up to you and your imagination!
Declare your love online. If your Valentine is a social media person, tell her you love her via her favorite social site. Make it a public message. And, invite all your friends to re-tweet, re-pin or share it.
Plus, here are three extra ideas for men (since we tend to have a harder time with this event):
putting yourself into it. Anyone can buy candy and flowers. But only a
real romantic can prepare a bath with oils and candles. Warm some
lotion for a relaxing massage after her bath. And don't forget to warm
her robe in the dryer before you put her in it.
You can start early! A romantic breakfast in bed is easy and
inexpensive to prepare. Make sure you buy the necessary ingredients in
advance (don't forget the single rose for the bud vase) and set your
alarm a few minutes earlier. Cut her toast or pancakes into heart
shapes. Add a bowl of strawberries for that special sweet touch.
- Not everyone's idea of romance is the same. Your Valentine may find it in acts of service. She wouldn't be the
first to think that taking a day off and surprising her by helping
clean the house or completing items on your "honey do" list is
But regardless of how you mark the occasion, don't let the pressure of Valentine's Day force you to spend money you don't have. Rather, break the mold. And remember that a loving relationship isn't created on just one special day. It grows a little bit every day you share love with your Valentine.
See related: 12 more inexpensive ideas for Valentine's Day, Love me, love my debt? No way, poll says
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